Digital media usage continues to increase year-over-year and most of it is due to the smartphone. "Mobile now represents almost 2 out of 3 digital media minutes," stated a recent comScore report. Consuming digital media on a tablet is also increasing, but at a lower rate than smartphones. Desktop usage has slightly decreased, according to comScore. But while mobile - and in particular the smartphone - is on the ascendent, there's still a big question mark about how to engage users on mobile devices. In other words, is mobile being used effectively by content producers; by which I mean media, brands, or even individuals trying to get more Facebook likes or Twitter followers.
Raj Aggarwal is CEO of mobile engagement platform Localytics and he wrote a clever, self-promoting op-ed on Recode about this issue. Framed as an "open letter to Mary Meeker," the Dean of Internet Analysts, Aggarwal claims we're in a "mobile engagement crisis." His main point is that mobile "provides the opportunity for a bi-directional, real-time, interactive relationship with end users — however, most companies simply aren’t taking advantage of this yet."
The reason why companies aren't taking full advantage of mobile is because of another big shift that's been happening over the past few years: the slow move away from company-owned apps and onto social media platforms. The problem with that is that the🔑 social platforms - Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and others - have made it difficult for companies to engage with their users/customers.
Part of the issue is a lack of tools for mobile optimization on platforms. As I noted in my newsletter about Platform Optimization, services such as Facebook's Instant Articles are only available to media companies at the present time. Yet brands and indeed any company that wants to interact with their users could make great use of a product like Instant Articles - which optimizes content for mobile and provides engagement metrics. Likewise Snapchat offers a content management service for a select number of media (the "Discover" section), which other companies are prevented from using.
So one 🔑 for improving mobile engagement is for the dominant social platforms to open up their mobile content tools to companies other than media.
You may be asking, why don't companies just improve their own mobile apps? There's a simple answer to that: most people don't (and probably never will) use them. Aggarwal quoted a couple of statistics to prove that. 25 percent of apps are used only once and 52 percent of users view push messages as annoying. In other words, very few mobile apps are used regularly - and push notifications just don't work anymore. Personally, I have turned off notifications on my phone for the majority of the apps I use.
Another🔑 to mobile engagement is for companies to focus on the social platforms where their target audience lives and plays. If you're a clothing brand targeting young people, for example, then you may be better to put your resources into Snapchat rather than Twitter. But even then, you'll need to experiment to find that elusive "bi-directional, real-time, interactive relationship with end users." For example, Calvin Klein hired one of Snapchat's most popular users, the musician DJ Khaled, to promote a product launch. At least for the duration of the launch party, Calvin Klein's brand was getting a lot of play with Snapchat's users.
What We Can Learn From Buzzfeed
Let's look now at an extreme case of going cross-platform. Buzzfeed is the media company de jour in 2016, thanks to its rapid growth and mastery of viral content. A recent article by Naytev, a startup that specializes in A/B testing on social media, stated that over 80% of Buzzfeed's reach "exists beyond the bounds of their website." In fact, Buzzfeed distributes its content to 45 channels - ranging from social apps (Facebook, Snapchat, et al), to curators (like Apple News), to messaging apps (notably all of the leading Asian apps, but not Facebook's far less functional Messenger), to video syndication partners, and to Buzzfeed's own apps.
A couple of things to note about Buzzfeed's cross-platform strategy. One, it relies heavily on video content. As Naytev points out, nearly half of Buzzfeed's 45 distribution channels are video syndication partners. Interestingly, they include a few portals (remember that word from the Dot Com era?): AOL, Yahoo, MSN. On AOL for example, Buzzfeed provides "short, tasty original videos." Such videos are all the rage currently, with some in media betting their companies on this type of content. There's a question mark on how well it will perform longer term, especially with the dire state of online advertising. Regardless, short and tasty (which we can assume means entertaining) videos are undoubtedly very suited to consumption on mobile devices.
Incidentally, that word 'tasty' is big with Buzzfeed - among its social media properties is a Facebook Page for cooking, called Tasty. The page is loaded with videos of less than a minute. Most of them play on fast-forward, which implies that speed of consumption is what engages users on Facebook.
If I may extend the pun, it's easy to conclude that Buzzfeed is the fast food of online media: tasty, easy to consume and not very healthy. But, just like McDonald's, Buzzfeed is also very, very successful. So the second thing to (ahem) take away from Buzzfeed's cross-platform strategy is to make your content easily digestible. That's🔑 to mobile engagement, as 52 million likes on the Tasty page testify.
We've seen that video works well on mobile - preferably short and easily consumed ones. We've also seen that content optimized for a particular platform works, especially for companies with access to tools like Facebook Instant Articles. Another🔑 factor for mobile engagement is to focus on the platforms where your target audience is.
The most important piece of advice is to experiment. Because nobody - not even Buzzfeed - has all the answers about what engages mobile users. Although hiring DJ Khaled helps.
Image credit: TechInsider